Shannon, a rural area in the west of Ireland, became the world’s first free trade zone in 1959, designed specifically to engage the USA and the international economy. Located near an international airport, Shannon continued to grow throughout the 1970s, until it was granted town status in 1980 with a population of 7,500.
In 1981 a group of Chinese dignitaries led by Jiang Zemin visited Shannon. They were eager to replicate the principles behind the special economic zone of Shannon in mainland China and a connection to Shenzhen was formed. Following this visit, under the direction of Deng Xiaoping, the Shannon model was used in the formation of Shenzhen, which was, at the time, a collection of towns comparable in scale and size. From the early eighties onwards, a significant number of Chinese leaders have visited Shannon in order to study the model. These include President Jiang Zemin; Premier Zhu Rongji; Premier Wen Jiabao; Vice Premier Huang Ju; Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan and most recently President Xi Jingping.
While Shannon has ultimately grown to just over 9,500 people, in stark contrast, Shenzhen has an estimated population of over 10 million. This model of planning and growth, so successful in Shenzhen, has since been rolled out to over 9,000 other Chinese cities. For the Irish National Pavilion at the Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale, two design practices: AP+E and Urban Agency, have collaborated to further develop the historical connection between these two distinct cities and celebrate it by engaging with their local communities in a project they call Shan-Zhen.
Shan-Zhen is part of an initiative entitled New Horizon_architecture from Ireland; a constituent of Irish Design 2015 (ID2015), a year-long initiative backed by the Irish government exploring, promoting and celebrating Irish design throughout Ireland and internationally in order to drive job creation, grow exports and increase competitiveness. Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, is Patron of ID2015.
New Horizon_architecture from Ireland presents the work of ten emerging practices to an international audience, selected by curators Raymund Ryan and Nathalie Weadick. These practices were deployed in teams to three high-profile architectural platforms around the world. The London Festival of Architecture in June produced work by Clancy Moore Architects, Hall McKnight Architects, Steve Larkin Architects, Emmett Scanlon Architects and TAKA Architects. The Chicago Architecture Biennial (October 2015) included an installation by A2 Architects, GKMP Architects and Ryan Kennihan Architects. Finally, at UABB in Shenzhen, New Horizon presents a site-responsive project designed by AP+E and Urban Agency, two firms doing exemplary work in Ireland and beyond.